REDD+ funds for conservation?

Before getting all excited about using REDD funds for conservation, read this recent letter in Conservation Letters,

Risky business: an uncertain future for biodiversity conservation finance through REDD+
Jacob Phelps, Edward L. Webb, & Lian P. Koh

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and through the conservation, sustainable management, and enhancement of carbon stocks (REDD+) offers unprecedented potential funding for forest conservation and associated biodiversity. However, as a growing number of biodiversity conservation projects link with carbon emissions mitigation efforts, they might also be exposed to significant financial risks. REDD+ projects currently face uncertainty over future demand for carbon credits, the potential for inconsistent donor support in the long-term, carbon market volatility, investor preference for low-cost emissions mitigation over cobenefits, and the possibility of a shortlived REDD+ mechanism. The private sector is aware of the associated financial risks, which remain largely unaddressed within the conservation literature. Biodiversity conservationists need to identify a balance between maximizing near-term REDD+ opportunities and insulating themselves from long-term financial risks. We describe some of the prospective financial risks for biodiversity conservation efforts linked with REDD+, and propose initial strategies for financial resilience.

Grain’s agrofuel report

Grain, an NGO that supports poor farmers in poor countries, has published a large report that is getting a lot of publicity.

The press release is here, the report, a special issue of the magazine Seedling, is here, further reading here.

We begin with an introductory article that, among other things, looks at the mind-boggling numbers that are being bandied around: the Indian government is talking of planting 14 million hectares of land with jatropha; the Inter-American Development Bank says that Brazil has 120 million hectares that could be cultivated with agrofuel crops; and an agrofuel lobby is speaking of 379 million hectares being available in 15 African countries. We are talking about expropriation on an unprecedented scale…

Do fungi feast on radiation?

Fascinating. A major discovery, if confirmed.

A type of fungus can devour radiation and convert it to fuel, researchers say. […]

Dark-coloured fungi use the same compound as people do, melanin, the pigment that makes both skin and truffles dark.

“Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, ionising radiation,” says Dr Ekaterina Dadachova of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

From News in Science. Story in Scientific American here. The paper is here.

The Quartenary Conundrum

The Quartenary Conundrum is this: While current empirical and theoretical ecological forecasts suggest that many species could be at risk from global warming, during the recent ice ages surprisingly few species became extinct.

In a recent paper in BioScience, Forecasting the Effects of Global Warming on Biodiversity (pdf), Daniel Botkin et al. state that

Fossil evidence and recent ecological and genetic research, along with specific problems with present forecasting methods, lead us to believe that current projections of extinction rates are overestimates. Previous work has failed to adequately take into account mechanisms of persistence. […]

Until recently, it was thought that past temperature changes were no more rapid than 1 degree Celsius (°C) per millennium, but recent information from both Greenland and Antarctica, which goes back approximately 400,000 years, indicates that there have been many intervals of very rapid temperature change, as judged by shifts in oxygen isotope ratios. Some of the most dramatic changes (e.g., 7°C to 12°C within approximately 50 years; Macdougall 2006) are actually of greater amplitude than anything projected for the immediate future. […]

What, then, is the answer to the Quaternary conundrum? The answer appears to lie in part with the ability of species to survive in local “cryptic” refugia, that is, to exist in a patchy, disturbed environment whose complexity allows faster migration than forecast for a continuous landscape, within which species move only at a single rate. The answer also lies in part with greater genetic heterogeneity within species, including local adaptations,which allows rapid evolution. For example, populations close to latitudinal borders are likely to be better adapted to some environmental changes than the average genotype. However, the conundrum is not completely solved, and some important genetic research suggests that species are more vulnerable than the fossil record indicates. A fuller solution to the conundrum will be important for improving forecasts of climate change effects on biodiversity.

HT Carl Zimmer.

Note that this is not a call for complacency, it is a call for better models of climate change effects on extinctions.

New marine reserves

The (London) Telegraph reports (via Tim Worstall),

Eight large marine reserves where fishermen would be liable for damage to protected species are being proposed by the Government today in a new Marine Bill…

Ben Bradshaw, the environment minister, will announce a network of eight marine reserves, including different types of marine habitat from the sandbanks of the Dogger Bank and off North Norfolk to the Darwin Mounds, an area of deep-water coral 1,000 metres deep off north-west Scotland…

…fishing would be banned altogether in some of the reserves – so-called no-take zones – with public consultation being used to determine which…

Jean-Luc Solandt of the Marine Conservation Society said: “I don’t think the number of reserves the Government is proposing is big enough to comply with their international obligations. That would need 20-30 per cent of each habitat covered. It is all about the exchange of larvae between areas so species are resilient.”

What would a similar scheme cost worldwide? In the 2004 paper by Andrew Balmford et al. The worldwide costs of marine protected areas, the authors estimated that conserving 20-30% of the world’s seas would cost $5 to $19 billion per year, and would probably create around one million jobs.

Harmful subsidies leading to overfishing were estimated at $15 to $30 billion per year, with the annual global marine fish catch being worth $70-80 billion per year.

Control Fraud

James Galbraith mentions in a comment the very useful concept of “control fraud” introduced by William K. Black, see e.g. When Fragile becomes Friable: Endemic Control Fraud as a Cause of Economic Stagnation and Collapse (pdf),

Individual “control frauds” cause greater losses than all other forms of property crime combined. They are financial super-predators. Control frauds are crimes led by the head of state or CEO that use the nation or company as a fraud vehicle. Waves of “control fraud” can cause economic collapses, damage and discredit key institutions vital to good political governance, and erode trust…

Economic theory about fraud is underdeveloped, core neo-classical theories imply that major frauds are trivial, economists are not taught about fraud and fraud mechanisms, and neo-classical economists minimize the incidence and importance of fraud for reasons of self-interest, class and ideology.

Neo-classical economics’ understanding of fraud is so weak that its policy prescriptions, if adopted wholly, produce strongly criminogenic environments that cause waves of control fraud. Neo-classical policies simultaneously make control fraud easier and more lucrative, dramatically reduce the risk of detection and prosecution by maximizing “systems capacity” problems, and encourage crime by making it easier for fraudsters to “neutralize” the social and psychological constraints against deceit and fraud. Thus the paradox: neo-classical economic triumphs produce tragedy…

William K. Black is also the author of the book The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.